Archive for April, 2007

This past weekend, I went to a Fast Track to Cash Flow event.  This is a financial seminar put on by a Canadian affiliate of the Rich Dad, Poor Dad series, and the goal of the seminar is to get people to think differently.

One of the exercises that the organizer of the event had people do is get us all to believe that it’s easier to raise money than it is to find a good deal.  In other words, raising money to invest in a deal is easy but finding that deal is tough.  So, if you find a good real estate investment property but don’t have enough money, you can joint venture with a bunch of other people to raise it and it should be no problem.

To prove his point, he asked for a few volunteers to go home that night and try to raise capital.  The pitch was that the volunteer was to phone people that they knew (family and/or friends) and say that if they could find an investment deal with positive cash flow, would they be interested in investing money with them on a joint venture?  Before I continue, dear reader, ask yourself the same question.  If I asked you the question: if I found an investment but didn’t have enough capital to finance it, would you consider joint venturing with me (ie, with me, Cool Spot)?

The organizer’s point the night before that these people would all have an easy time raising the money.  The next day they came back and all came up on stage and he asked them how it went.  All the people made a few phone calls, most to family but some to friends, and they had commitments for between $35,000 to $100,000, all in the span of 24 hours.  Indeed, that is impressive.

But is it?  I tend to be very skeptical.  While people say they are willing to do an investment deal, when it comes time to actually pony up, people have many more excuses than they do money.  I know, it’s happened before.  When I was starting an investment club at work, a lot of people were interested in it.  When it came time to actually put money down, the excuses for why they couldn’t do anything were flying about left, right and center.  They were buying a house, they had to pay off this debt, they had to pay off that debt, they didn’t have any money right now, etc, etc.  This happened over and over again.  My point is that it’s easy to raise soft money (money that people say they will give) but it’s hard to actually get them to open the purse strings.

While I think that going to friends and family to raise money can be a good idea, I think it makes more sense to go to friends and family who are already experienced investors and are used to putting money down.  These people, when they say they’ll put money up for a deal, will actually put money down on the deal.  They’ll come through.  Friends and family will be blinded by greed but reality sets in when it comes time to make a commitment.  Experienced investors will analyze the deal and make the commitment early on.  My second point is this – beware when you raise money because you haven’t raised it until you’ve actually raised it.

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I’ve been in Seattle on business this week and I believe I have set a personal record for the most number of meetings in one week.  In fact, I am absolutely certain I have set a new record.

This week I have attended twenty-one (21) meetings.  That is a whole heck of a lot.  While I did get a lot of stuff discussed I only got some stuff accomplished.  I guess it comes with the territory of being a Program Manager.

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In trading, the majority of my trades don’t really go anywhere.  Most of them float around between a return of -5% to +10%.  Google, American Oriental Bioengineering, Philadelphia Consolidated Holdings… all of those have return essentially flat ROI.

However, there is a small minority of trades that provide outstanding returns.  Intercontinental Exchange was up 100% for before retracing and is now at 60% (in six months), while Apple just released earnings and is now up 70% for me (in 9 months).  That’s not a bad return.  These two stocks have been leap-frogging each in terms of the most gain for me for several months.  It’s a game that I don’t mind them playing.

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I am back in Seattle on business again, my third trip there since September. Indeed, I have taken a number of trips in the past year, far more than my brother who does travel but only by train.

Anyhow, I was in the restaurant ordering breakfast and the manager came up with me and offered to start making my waffle (because I was waiting for the previous person’s waffle to finish cooking). I accepted, and then he pointed out that he remembered me from last time. Well, I remembered him from last time as well so we had a quick chat and then I went and got my waffle.

I can just imagine it now; I’ll be walking into the restaurant and say "Morning, everybody," and everyone turns and calls out, all at the same time "Cool Spot!"

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For the past four weeks or so, I have been working on a new effect that I am planning on performing at our club show on Sunday, May 6. The effect is coming together; I try to practice it once or twice a night, and a couple of times I record myself with a video camera and then play it back to see how it looks. Overall, it looks pretty good. When performed, it’s either going to be very funny or very stupid. I’m hoping it’s the former. I’m still waiting on a prop that I order a few weeks ago, if I don’t get it soon I’m not sure what I’m going to do.

While learning that effect, I’m also learning several other new ones. Excluding that one, I am currently working on five new effects. I’m quite excited about this because it’s been a long time since I actively tried to add new effects. I think I am going to start cataloguing everything that I know so I don’t forget them, that’s the biggest obstacle to learning new tricks. This summer, when I start performing on the street again, I aim to use between 1/3 and 1/2 new material (ie, never-before performed material). Should be pretty cool.

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This morning I went to go for an x-ray on my hip.  Contrary to my post title, the discomfort I am experiencing is not the worst pain ever but it is annoying.

After my near-death experience in Fiji, I had extensive bruising on my hips and lower back but I had incredible flexibility (but low mobility) in my legs.  As the bruises went away, I figured I was recovering completely.

The problem started in January.  I was standing and turned to walk towards the kitchen table when I felt a sharp pain in my upper leg.  It’s somewhat on the inside, the top of the hamstring but a little more inwards toward the body.  "That’s odd," I thought.  I’d never experienced that before.  I had been playing sponge hockey for several weeks and my mobility had never been impaired.  As time passed, the pain never really went away.  I have very little rotational movement in my left upper leg right near where it attaches to the body.  I have no discomfort in my right leg, only my left one.  It only occurs when I rotate my left to the left or to the right.  I can run normally because running does not involve rotating the hip.  But doing a standing crescent kick is totally out of the question.

I finally decided to go to a doctor and ask what was going on.  The leg clearly was not improving.  He sent me for an x-ray because the injury I described (no rotational movement in the hip) sounded very much like a hip injury.  Even though my original x-rays were negative, perhaps something had aggravated since then.

So, now I play the waiting game.  The x-rays are going to be forwarded to the doctor while I wait and see what the deal is.  At first I thought that it was muscle or tissue damage, but there’s a chance it’s arthritis (sigh) or more likely — some sort of hip injury.

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So, today I received another title change in my position at work.  I am now the Program Manager of Spam Effectiveness of Exchange Hosted Services.  This means that I am in charge of measuring how well each of our individual layers of anti-spam components are doing.  It also means that the day-to-day work of spam analysis no longer falls to me.

In reality, not much has changed.  I’ve been doing this job for a while now (5 or 6 months).  There two major changes:

  1. I now report to a different manager
  2. I have to travel to Seattle more often.

Notice that I didn’t mention anything to do with financial compensation.    That’s not because I didn’t get, but because I’m not saying either way whether or not it did happen.  I neither confirm nor deny.

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For a while now, I’ve been thinking about making a post on some of my favorite movies. It occurs to me that many of my favorites (of the month) have been movies I have paid only a little bit of money to see, either in the cheap theatres or on DVD (which I got for free from… someone).

Anyways, here are list of some good ones in no particular order. If you haven’t seen them, I would encourage you to do so. I have the first two so you can borrow them if you want (and you know me in person; if not, you’ll have to rent or download them):

1. The Corpse Bride. I don’t know what it is, exactly, that I like about this movie, but I really like it. I first saw it in the cheap theatres and then I picked it up on DVD for a good price. I’ve seen it a couple of more times since then. It’s a clay-animation movie and I like the story quite a bit. I suppose the overall theme of the best laid plans going awry is what speaks to me.

2. The Prestige. I just saw this movie this past weekend and I thought it was fantastic. As a magician I could totally relate to it. Very well done, I can see why it was nominated for best picture.

3. Bend it like Beckham. I saw this movie in the cheap theatres shortly after I returned from England in 2002. I guess I could relate to the English experience and it reminded me of the country I spent the past year and a half living in.

4. Spirited Away. This is an anime movie that I borrowed from a friend a couple of years ago. It was the first anime movie that I had ever seen and it was a pleasant introduction into the Japanese genre.

I’d like to point out that I don’t typically go for the movies that appeal to emotionalism, but some of my choices would contradict that statement.

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One of the things that we as Canadians have to deal with when we travel to the United States is the rate of exchange. We always get shafted when we want to exchange Canadian money for American money.

Currency exchange places (even banks and credit card companies) always take their commission so you can never break even, even if you exchanged your money and then re-exchanged it 2 minutes later. For example, if you exchange $100 Cdn they’ll give you $82 US. Then if you exchange it right back you’ll get $97 Cdn. So, no matter what you’re going to lose in the exchange. The key is to realize you’ll be paying commissions and uneven rates and try to look for the best rates.

The other, and more major, impact of currency exchange is the rate of exchange between the two currencies. For a while, in the 1990’s, the Canadian dollar was trading at 65 cents to the US dollar (ie, 1 Canadian dollar will net you 65 cents). That made it not worthwhile to go to the States for a visit. Now, it has strengthened 87 cents US, although earlier in the year it was trading at 90 cents. The question is, is now a good time to exchange your currency?

Ideally, you’d want to exchange your money when the Cdn dollar is trading high and convert back to Cdn funds when the dollar is trading low. Well, I’ve been watching a chart of the Cdn/US exchange rate on stock charts (ticker symbol FXC) and the Canadian dollar has changed from a down trend into an uptrend. It’s a textbook change in trend. This suggests that the Cdn dollar is going to strengthen against the US dollar. So, by going to the States those Cdn dollars will be able to go further. On the other hand, the values of my American assets are going to start going down. Still, shopping for stuff in the US, at least in the near term, makes financial sense if you were going to do it anyways.

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It’s been a few years since I performed magic on the street. I did it on weekends when I lived in England in 2001, travelled a bit in Australia in 2002, and then performed down at the Forks for a period of about 6 weeks (on Fridays) in 2004. Since then I have not performed any street magic.

I was a very good performer and I got very good at the tricks I performed but I never made a lot of money doing it. Thank goodness I had a day job to support me. After performing "full-time" in Australia in 2002 I decided that I didn’t want to perform magic full-time. It was too much pressure to make money. I was perfectly happy keeping it as a hobby, albeit as a hobby that I was very good at.

Lately I have been toying with the idea of making a glorious return to the business. It would give me a chance to try out some new material, such as the trick with the napkins, the linking rings and maybe my dancing routine. Actually, on second thought I think I’ll nix the dancing routine. Anyways, since I don’t feel I’d be under any pressure to make money, I could relax and simply have fun with it. It would also give me a chance to (a) polish some existing effects, (b) master some new effects, and (c) try out some new effects to see whether or not they suck.

Besides which, it’ll give me a chance to practice the trick I want to perform at the Microsoft annual general meeting.

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Ever since I got back from my last trip to Australia/Fiji, I have been wondering where I would like to go next.

I have about six weeks of holidays banked up.  I also have a little bit of money saved, and while I could use it to pay off a good part of my car loan, I think we all know that I’m not going to do that.  I think I’d prefer to travel somewhere, because travelling is fun.

Option 1: Las Vegas.  I would like to go to Las Vegas; I haven’t been there in years (though I passed through the airport last September) and I’d like to check it out again.  I wouldn’t go there to gamble, though.  As a stock trader, I can’t imagine playing a game where the odds are consistently stacked against me.  No, I’d like to go to Vegas because there’s some shows I’d like to see.  I think I’d like to check out some magicians, and maybe Cirque du Soleil.  Maybe I’d go to the amusement park there also.  On the other hand, that’s getting a little pricey.

The problem with option 1 is that I can’t find anyone to go with.  I’d much prefer to go with someone rather than on my own.  This is a departure in methodology from my other vacations where I travelled on my own.  Most of my friends are either too poor or they don’t want to go or have scheduling conflicts.  This option is becoming less and less of one.

Option 2: Scotland.  Six years ago, in 2001, I went to Edinburgh, Scotland and street-performed during the Fringe Festival.  I was an up-and-coming magician at the time and I think now I could be even better.  I would be under no pressure to perform and could take in many of the other sites and attractions of Scotland.  In this regard, I could perform on a couple of days and then sight-see for the rest.

The pros of this idea is that I would have no trouble travelling alone.  Scotland is a place I liked (though it’s incredibly rainy) and I never got a chance to see much of it the first time I went.  The cons of this plan is that a flight over there in August would be very expensive, and more importantly, I’d like to try places I haven’t been to before.  I’ve been to Edinburgh already.

Option 3: China.  Upon returning from the southern Hemisphere (where I narrowly escaped the hamburger-eating people of Rand McNally), I thought that for a major change I should visit the far east.  China seems like a good idea.

There’s tremendous upside to going to China such as it being a place I’d never been before and I’d be adding a new country to my repertoire.  The cons are the expenses involved and the travel time.  I’m also not sure if I’d like to go alone or not.  I’m sure I’d be okay (I am an experienced lone traveller) but on the other hand it could be fun to go with somebody.

Option 4: Eastern Canada.  Almost every single time I have travelled within Canada, I have always gone west.  West to Alberta, BC, Saskatchewan.  Even within the States it has always been west.  Going to eastern Canada, like the Maritimes, gives me a chance to experience a part of the country I’d never been to.  The upside here is that it wouldn’t be as expensive, I would not have to exchange my currency and I could even go by train.  Really, the only downside is that it’s not a new country and I enjoy experiencing different cultures.

Option 5: Short trips here, there, and nowhere.  My final option is to not go anywhere.  Sure, I have plenty of time booked, but I could take it off and just do things around the town where I live (or go camping, or be a counselor out at camp for a week, or something).  I could also take a short trip to Minneapolis or something and visit the Mall of America.  The plus side here is that I really do get to save money and pay off some of my debts like my car and the remainder of my student loan.  The cons is the same as above – I’m still young and able to travel easily so maybe I should take advantage of it while I can.

So, those are my options.  At the present moment I have decided nothing other than I will likely go to the Minneapolis Magic Convention in early June.  Other than that there is nothing else planned.

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